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The Exaltation of the Holy Cross church complex, the sanctuary of the Passion of Christ - Zabytek.pl


woj. warmińsko-mazurskie, pow. lidzbarski, gm. Orneta-obszar wiejski

This pilgrimage complex, located in Warmia (in the area of the historic Warmia dominion) and featuring elements of the Baroque and the Classicist styles is one of the early modern pilgrimage sanctuaries which survive in the Warmia region.

It constitutes an example of brick Baroque architecture of the Warmia region. It is complex with immense historic, scientific and artistic values; it features valuable interior fittings and an interesting set of wall paintings.


Chwalęcin, a village first mentioned in 1349, was once the property of the Warmia chapter. The pilgrimage movement, connected to the so-called black crucifix that was situated here, believed to possess miraculous qualities, dates back to 1520. For the needs of religious cult and the pilgrims, two further chapels were built around 1570; during the mid-17th century a half-timbered church was erected. The church belonged to the parish in Osetnik. The independent parish of the Holy Cross and St Christopher was established in 1715; during the same year, the construction of a new, brick church began. It was built to some extent in response to the intensification of the pilgrim movement and at the same time as a votive offering of the chapter, made after the end of the epidemic following the vows that were made on 15 November 1709. The church was probably erected according to plans drawn up by Jan Krzysztof Reimers, who originated from Westphalia but lived in the town of Orneta, also connected with the construction of the pilgrimage complex of the church of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary and St Joseph in Krosno near Orneta; he is also believed to be the author of the plan of the church of Our Saviour in Głotowo. The church, along with the main altar, was consecrated by bishop Krzysztof Andrzej Szembek on 13 June 1728. In years 1748-1749, John Lossau from Braniewo executed a set of illusionistic paintings on the vaulted ceiling of the church, their themes centered around the history and theology of the Holy Cross. In the 1st half of the 19th century a classical facade was built; the cloisters around the pilgrims’ yard were erected during the same period. The facade, most likely designed by Hilary Szpilowski, was added around 1830, while its gable and the porch in front of the western entrance were built under the supervision of Schwingenberg from Orneta in 1858. The cloisters were probably planned to be built from the very beginning; however they were only actually constructed in years 1820-1836. The final stage of the construction works was carried out by the master bricklayer Domański from Orneta in accordance with the design by August Bertram from Braniewo. The complex, constructed and furnished during the 1st half of the 18th century and extended a century later is a living proof of the continued existence of the Late-Medieval cult of the Passion of Christ and the associated pilgrimage tradition as well as of the fact that the artistic, architectural and visual settings thereof were constantly being upgraded and adjusted.


Chwalęcin is a small village; the church, surrounded by a quadrilateral complex of cloisters with chapels in the corners, is an expressive dominant landscape feature positioned in its very centre. The church, oriented towards the east, is a relatively short, three-nave, three-bay hall-type structure with a semicircular apse positioned on its axis. A porch is situated in front of the entrance to the church. Annexes with galleries added to the last bay upstairs create a type of transept, the entire floor plan being similar to the letter “T”. The western facade follows a three-axis design, its walls covered with plaster; it is divided by pilasters supporting an entabulature with a pronounced cornice, with blind windows and niches positioned inside the fields between the pilasters. Above the cornice there is a low attic and gable repeating the divisions of the facade on a smaller scale, crowned with a triangular tympanum. Ceramic sculptures executed in 1858 adorn the facade. The side facades are clad with facing bricks and accentuated by lesenes and cornices. The windows of the church feature window surrounds with upper sections extending sideways. The body is covered with a gable roof; a polygonal steeple with a profiled dome juts out of the roof ridge, its spire topped with a weathervane with the date 1721. Inside the church, the pillars between the naves support the wooden faux groin vault above the main nave, the aisles featuring barrel vaults with lunettes. The vaults, the window and arcade reveals as well as the ceilings above the galleries are all adorned with painted decorations featuring a consistent, lavish iconography which focuses on the devotion to the Holy Cross. The entire presentation combines a narrative cycle connected with history of the Cross with images of theologian saints, various emblems, images that invoke themes related to the Passion of Christ and the Eucharist as well as images connected with the sanctuary in Chwalęcin. Illusionistic architectural window surrounds were inspired by the works of Andrea Pozzo, an Italian Baroque painter and architect. The interior of the church features original Baroque fittings from around the mid-18th century: the main altar with sculptural decorations centered around the surviving crucifix from the first half of the 15th century, side altars, the pulpit, marquetry patron’s pews, confessionals and the organ gallery with a pipe organ casing dating back to 1798. Cartouches with inscriptions concerning the history of construction of the church are incorporated into the wooden portals framing the doors which lead towards the stairs to the upper galleries. Cloisters surround the courtyard which spreads around the church. The cloisters open up towards the courtyard in a series of arched passages; the chapels, slightly taller than the cloisters themselves, are positioned in the corners of the courtyard. Designed on a square plan, their interiors are circular in shape; the chapels are topped with tented roofs crowned with roof lanterns. The facades are accentuated by corner pilasters supporting the entabulature. The cloisters, covered with a gable roof, run along three sides of the yard, giving way to a pair of symmetrically curved walls ahead of the facade of the church, with a gate positioned on the axis of the entrance. The yard around the church contains a number of surviving gravestones that once formed part of a cemetery which surrounded the building.

Limited access to the historic building. The church is open only during church service.

Compiled by Joanna Piotrowska, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Olsztyn, 15.10.2014.



Category: church

Architecture: barokowy

Building material:  ceglane

Protection: Register of monuments

Inspire id: PL.1.9.ZIPOZ.NID_N_28_BK.146747